A SPECIAL SECTION BROUGHT TO YOU BY TIRE RACK
Preparing your car for winter isn’t as simple as turning the climate control knob from the blue section to the red and dusting off the heated seat buttons. There’s a whole checklist of tasks to ensure that a safe and simple season lies ahead. Are all your lights—especially the hazards—working properly? Have you checked your car’s vital fluids? How old is your battery? Can your windshield wipers handle the next icy morning? Also, be sure to check the tread life of
your tires; the specialists at Tire Rack recommend replacement at 4/32 inch, and if winter for you means snow-covered roads, it would be best to start with “tread depth to dig through snow” of 6/32 inch. Preventive maintenance can save time and headaches later.
Being ready for snow isn’t just about your car, but what’s in it. It’s okay to base your preparedness on your typical driving environment, but at the very least, an ice scraper and a small broom are musts. Visibility is important in any weather condition. If your commute is more remote, consider adding gear like a small shovel, kitty litter for traction in case you get stuck, and even a flashlight, blankets, and high-energy snacks.
Mental preparedness is just as important as having the right supplies. Before winter starts, get in the practice of keeping your fuel tank above half full, and try the same approach for your cell phone battery life. When we move from the warmth of summer to the cold of winter, checking tire pressures regularly is as important as ever. Tire Rack cautions that every ten-degree drop in temperature correlates to a 1-psi reduction in pressure, so the drop from 82°F to 32°F can mean a 5-psi drop in tire pressure. If your car is new to you, take it out in an empty parking lot during the fi rst snow and get used to its dynamics and anti-lock brake action. Even if you’ve been driving the same vehicle for years, a refresher course wouldn’t hurt.
There’s no such thing as the right tire for all conditions, just as there is no single pair of shoes for all occasions. Each and every tire has some trade-off, but when thinking about which to buy, remember that those patches of rubber are the only thing between the vehicle and the road. If your tires can’t get traction, your expensive four-wheel-drive system doesn’t matter. And under braking, drivetrains are all created equal: even the ABS and stability control systems depend on traction to be able to function effectively. When snow starts to fall, a set of four winter tires is the best way to stay in control and on the road.
When considering winter tires, the first thing to remember is that buying only two of them isn’t worth the money savings and split personality your vehicle will exhibit. Put them only on the front, and the back of your car will want to spin; put them only at the rear, and steering ability will be jeopardized. With either arrangement, your car’s stability control, all-wheel-drive, and ABS systems will not operate properly. Buying four matching tires ensures the highest level of safety and control.
The winter-tire market isn’t as simple as it used to be. There are now many different shapes, sizes, and styles. Newer options include tires that provide both traction and performance. These types of tires aren’t ideal for clawing through deep snow, but in regions where temperatures drop close to freezing even though snowfall is only occasional and minimal, they offer added control without the drawbacks of excess road noise and diminished handling. In addition, their “V” ratings allow for higher speeds without the risk of a blowout. For many high-performance cars with big brakes that require large wheels, these types of tires may be the only option. What’s the best choice for your vehicle? There’s no better way to find out than to call a Tire Rack representative who can pinpoint your requirements, or you can visit the company’s online Winter Tire Decision Guide.
That first snow has arrived and you’re ready to hit the road. Before you go anywhere, allow extra time for your car to warm up. Remove the snow not only from the windows but also from the rest of the car—blowing chunks of snow can be a hazard for other drivers. Check that your windows and your mirrors are fully clear and defrosted.
Taking extra time is the name of the game on the road as well. Drive slowly, and brake early. Be gentle with the throttle to avoid wheelspin, and remember that bridges can be icy when the rest of the road isn’t. Drive with your headlights on, but high beams can create more glare off the snow, so avoid using them, as well as your cruise control. You want to be in full control and at full attention. The leading cause of death during winter storms is car accidents, and you don’t want to become a statistic.
When approaching hills, momentum is your friend. While driving too fast can be dangerous, starting up a hill with too little speed increases the chance of not making it to the top. If your car allows you to shift gears manually, use a lower gear to maximize torque on inclines or to engine-brake on declines. In any situation, look as far ahead as possible to maximize your time to react.
Sometimes even the best drivers can still end up losing control. Remember that when you’re sliding, always steer into the skid and keep an eye on where you want to end up. Avoid jerky movements, and try to stay calm. If you do end up stuck, remember to be patient. Ensure that the situation is safe before you exit the vehicle, and have a towing company’s phone number saved in your cell phone just in case. Above all, whether it’s equipment, tires, or anything else, there’s no such thing as being too prepared. TR